Review for Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures
The thing about the Indiana Jones movies is that they defy criticism; especially the first three which have gone down in cinema history as outright action adventure classics. Just what can you say about films that fans already know inside out, and backwards? It’s this that has me prevaricating on all the big screen blockbusters in my collection, letting them gather proverbial dust for years while I pounce on the latest niche or cult nugget of gold to review. You don’t know how long I’ve been wavering over reviewing The Lord of the Rings movies!
The Indiana Jones Collection is presented across 5 discs, 4 movies plus a bonus features disc, packaged in a digipack with some rather handsome artwork, all held in a rigid card keepcase.
Introduction: Raiders of the Lost Ark
It’s all business as usual for Dr Indiana Jones, globetrotting archaeologist. He almost has his hands on a priceless figurine in South America, when it’s snatched from his grasp by his arch-rival in the field of archaeology, Belloq. Things are about to get serious though, as the Nazis have taken an interest in mysticism and the occult, and they are getting dangerously close to locating the Ark of the Covenant. The US Government thinks that’s a bad idea, and they come to Indiana Jones to get to the Ark first. Only he’s not the expert on the Covenant; that would be his mentor Abner Ravenwood. Which would be awkward as Indy once had a thing with Ravenwood’s daughter, Marion, and that didn’t end well. But while he heads off for a painful reunion, the Nazis are one step ahead in Egypt with their own consultant archaeologist, Rene Belloq.
Picture: Raiders of the Lost Ark
Raiders of the Lost Ark gets a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p, and at first glance it seems like a gorgeous, rich, and vibrant transfer. As they’re trekking through the verdant jungle in the opening scenes, the camera briefly linger on a woollen hat worn by one of the guides, and it reveals colours that I had never seen before. And while the film is a smidge soft, no doubt down to the film stock used in 1982, the transfer really delivers in terms of detail and clarity over the DVD release. There is the odd sign of age, a bit of print damage visible during the ‘Bad Dates’ scene, but generally the print looks clear and unblemished for a film well into its fourth decade. It’s when you linger on the image that you begin to sense that things have changed more than a little for this Blu-ray incarnation. For one thing, grain is suspiciously light, although it is still present, while the colour timing seems to have changed, with colours and flesh-tones far more saturated than before. This print tends to push the colours to the limit, but thankfully doesn’t cross the line into oversaturation, but I do get the feeling that the grimy and darker feel of the previous releases of Raiders has been lost in the change. It is watchable enough though, and some may consider more in keeping with Temple of Doom and Last Crusade in terms of colour timing.
Sound: Raiders of the Lost Ark
I was happy with the audio though, a DTS-HD MA 5.1 English surround track that, after having the volume nudged up a tad, certainly hit all the right spots when it came to delivering the action with suitable impact and surround presence (the gunfight in Marion’s bar is a great example), along with John Williams’ rousing soundtrack, and all the while keeping the dialogue audible. The film, which originally would have had the audio in stereo, certainly takes advantage of the surround soundstage, and there’s no sign of the balance issues that made the DVD so annoying. You also have DD 5.1 French, German, and DD 2.0 German, with subtitles in these languages, as well as Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish.
Extras: Raiders of the Lost Ark
The disc presents its content with an animated menu, but the only extras are the Teaser Trailer, the Theatrical Trailer, and the Re-Issue Trailer, all in HD.
Conclusion: Raiders of the Lost Ark
The first film is still the best, and for me is the perfect example of an action adventure movie, and has never been bettered. It doesn’t put a foot wrong during its runtime, just thrilling excitement from beginning to end, with great characters, brilliant stunt sequences, sets, locations, an awesome mystical maguffin, and a great blend of action, drama, and comedy. Of course I’m preaching to the converted. After all, who hasn’t heard of Indiana Jones, who hasn’t seen Raiders of the Lost Ark? It was made back when both Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were at the top of their respective games, the former coming off the back of Jaws and Close Encounters, the latter off the back of the first two Star Wars movies. Speaking of which, we have Harrison Ford as the main character, again having just made Blade Runner and Empire Strikes Back. The stars aligned and the cinema gods cast their benevolence, and history was made.
The Saturday morning adventure movie was back in fashion, and everyone wanted to do Raiders, make a boys own adventure movie with heroes, villains, and plenty of swashbuckling, and in close order it seemed we got great films like Romancing the Stone, High Road to China, Armour of God, and not so great ones like King Solomon’s Mines. But none of them could live up to the original. The Ark, Indiana Jones, Sallah, Marion, Marcus, vs. Belloq, and the Nazis with the melting faces; pure movie magic perfection!
Introduction: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Some might believe in destiny, in fate. It might have been fated for Doctor Indiana Jones, eminent archaeologist to get into a spot of bother while trying to trade an Imperial Chinese treasure for a priceless diamond. It might have been fate for him to try and take club singer Willie Scott hostage, and wind up poisoned in the process. It might have been fate for her to grab the antidote in the resulting mayhem, and for both of them, and Indy’s sidekick Short Round to escape China in the wrong plane. It might have been fate for the pilots to bail out, and leave the plane to crash in the Himalayas. For one Indian fakir, it was certainly fate that they managed to escape the plane crash, and find their way to his village. For the cult of the Thuggee is at large again, has stolen the village sacred stone casting the region into a famine, and worse, has stolen all the village children. This fakir believes that Indiana Jones is fated to go to Pankot Palace, defeat the Thuggee cult, retrieve the sacred stone, and rescue the children. Simple, if it weren’t for Willie Scott constantly screaming in terror in his ear, Short Round trying to cheat him at poker, and the Thuggee leader, Mola Ram, having a habit of ripping his enemies’ hearts out.
Picture: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
I have no complaints about the image quality of the second film in the collection. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom gets a 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, and the image is very agreeable. It has the requisite level of grain that you would expect from a film of the period, the print is clean and stable, colour reproduction is excellent, and detail levels are spectacular. From the art deco nightclub opening scene, complete with song and dance number, to the intricate luxuries of Pankot palace, this film is a delight to watch. It doesn’t seem as if there has been any tinkering with the colour timing either, and it looks just as I recall from my TV viewing, VHS tapes, and DVD disc, only with high definition clarity.
Sound: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
This time the choice is between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, DD 5.1 French, and German, and the same subtitles as before. There’s no stereo track this time. Once again, the surround track does a fine job of enhancing what was originally a stereo experience. The dialogue is clear, John Williams’ music is present and correct, and the action gets a proper surround soundstage to play in. The rollercoaster mine-cart chase would be one point in the film to grin and bear the audio extravagance.
Extras: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Once again, the film is presented with an animated menu screen, but the only extras on this disc are the Teaser and Theatrical Trailers, both in HD.
Conclusion: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom hasn’t aged all that well for me, that’s despite me seeing it for the first time in its uncut form, finally seeing the grisly heart ripping scene, which I knew was absent, as well as a bunch of other scenes that I didn’t know had been cut. All of a sudden, the middle act of the film makes a whole lot more sense than it did in its original BBFC mandated form. It should work, after all it has the iconic character of Indiana Jones, it’s got even more action than the first film, and the humour is still there. And courtesy of that mine-cart chase scene, it fits the bill of a rollercoaster thrill ride summer movie down to a tee. It’s even got a memorable screen villain in Om Puri’s Mola Ram, who certainly chews the scenery with Bollywood relish, or would that be chutney...?
However, the maguffin doesn’t have the same kind of mystical resonance as the biblical artefacts of the first and third films; after all, a bunch of phallic stones hardly has the same global cultural reach that the Ark of the Covenant had. I’m of Indian heritage and I didn’t know what they were the first time I saw the film. Also, there was a time in the eighties that every movie had to have a kid sidekick, and Temple of Doom gets Short Round, who’s never more than an obvious gimmick, very much out of place in the Indiana Jones universe. It’s hard to see a swashbuckling archaeology professor buckling swashes with a kid in tow. Then there’s Willie Scott. If Marion Ravenwood was Indy’s ‘Goddamn Partner!’, then Willie Scott is never more than baggage, although with a pair of lungs like that, she’d be more suited to the TARDIS. For me what really drags the film down is the middle act. Despite finally seeing it as originally intended, the interlude in the catacombs, from the first Thuggee ritual to the freeing of the slaves is slow and tedious, the underground setting dark and monotonous, and I always find myself starting to nod off before Indy gets his mojo back.
Introduction: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Fleeing from the ultimate terror of teeming students and grading term papers, Doctor Indiana Jones escapes his office, only to be picked up by men in the employ of wealthy businessman Walter Donovan. Donovan is something of an archaeologist himself and is currently sponsoring an attempt to locate the Holy Grail, the legendary cup of Christ. He impresses Indy with the authenticity of his finds, but Indy demurs when asked to lead the team searching for the Grail as Donovan states that the previous head of the team has gone missing. Indy suggests his estranged father as the genuine expert in Grail lore, but when Donovan explains that Henry Jones is the missing man, it’s time for Indy to strap on the bullwhip and don the Fedora once more.
Picture: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Another 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer graces the Last Crusade disc, and once more I have no complaints. It’s a gorgeous transfer, stable and colourful, bringing out more detail in the film than I have ever seen. There’s no print damage or sign of age, and the film’s gorgeous production design and attention to period detail comes across well. About the only nit that I have to pick are the scenes with the Zeppelin, effects shots which look a little creaky and out of place with the rest of the film.
Sound: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
The same is true for the auditory experience, with the DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English track the obvious one to go for. There are DD 5.1 French and German tracks as well, with subtitles in all three and the usual Scandinavian suspects. Once again, all the important elements are in perfect balance; the action sounds fantastic, gunshots, explosions, bullwhips and fistfights, John Williams’ memorable score is always evident, and the dialogue is clear throughout. Normally I sit through these films for review with a pen in hand, jotting down notes and reminders as I go along, little video glitches here, sound burbles there. Not for this film. This time I was just as glued to the screen as I was the first time I saw Last Crusade.
Extras: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
As before, the film is presented with an animated menu, and the only extras on this disc are the theatrical and teaser trailer, presented in HD.
Conclusion: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Over the years I’ve had the reverse experience with Last Crusade that I had with Temple of Doom. Today, it’s a perfect adventure movie on a par with Raiders of the Lost Ark, and perhaps the last Steven Spielberg movie that I enjoy without reservation. It’s perfectly paced, has great action, and it has that wonderful sense of humour that infuses the Indiana Jones films. Nazis were always the best villains in these films, while the maguffin, the Holy Grail has just the same sort of mythic and religious resonance that the Ark of the Covenant did. The stakes are high in the film, and the audience remains on the edge of their seats throughout.
Twenty years ago, I would have been picking a few nits. I felt the young Indiana Jones prologue was a little overlong and cute, packing in far too many of the adventurer’s trademark traits being formed in such a short space of time. I felt that this was another film in which Spielberg was working out abandonment issues. I felt that the serious and measured Marcus Brody was replaced by more of a comic foil, I felt that Indy’s dad was a little too comically bumbling at times, and I felt that it wasn’t as good as Raiders.
It’s still not as good as Raiders, but I’ve forgiven all of those other minor faults, simply through sheer enjoyment of the film. If I put Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on, then the film owns me completely for the next two hours. It’s pure fun entertainment with one of the most engaging characters ever committed to celluloid. They should have kept making Indiana Jones films into the nineties; instead we had to wait nearly twenty years...
Introduction: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Ancient Hindu death cults were no problem, and even the Nazis could be dealt with, but when it comes to the US Government, even Indiana Jones has met his match. After being kidnapped by Russians, dragged to Area 51 and forced at gunpoint to retrieve a certain artefact for them, before barely surviving an atomic test, who do you think the FBI blames? Indy was on his way to politically warmer climes when a greaser named Mutt Williams stopped him with some worrying news. A former colleague of Indy’s and a mentor of Mutt’s, Harold Oxley has gone missing in Peru. On top of that, Mutt’s mother went looking for Oxley and has disappeared too, and she was the one who told Mutt to go to Indy if he ever needed help. It’s all about the crystal skull of Akator, the secret of ultimate power, and it’s what the Russians were searching for in Nevada. You can bet they’re going to be in Peru too!
Picture: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Just as you would expect, the most recent of the films gets the sweetest transfer onto Blu-ray. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull looks pristine on this disc; the 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer showing no flaws to my eyes. The movie however is visually very disappointing, in no way matching the look and style of the first three films. It’s been through the mill of post-production, the film colour-graded, saturated and de-saturated softened and fluffed up to within an inch of its life, to the point that even the live action sequences and stunts look as if they were created in CGI. I found the fourth film to be hazy, soft, over-exposed and sepia tinted, practically drained of blue. It could have been worse. It could have been teal and orange. But there’s no excuse for the genuine CGI. The snakes creeped me out, the rats were worse, the bugs made my skin crawl, but prairie dogs, monkeys and soldier ants made me think bad thoughts at software engineers.
Sound: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
No complaints about the audio, which is apparently an upgrade from the single release of this film. You get DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, and DD 5.1 Surround English Audio Descriptive, German, Spanish, French, and Italian, subtitles in those languages as well as Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish and Swedish. All three elements were in balance, the action was resounding, with full use of the surround soundstage to convey the film’s sound design. The music was present and correct, although the familiar themes made most impact, the new score for this film didn’t quite register in the same way, and the all important dialogue was clear throughout, including Cate Blanchett’s bizarre accent.
Extras: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
The disc presents its content with the familiar animated menu, and the only extras on this disc are Theatrical Trailers 2, 3, and 4. One wonders what happened to Theatrical Trailer 1. The extra features that came with the single movie release aren’t in this collection, so that’s one disc you can’t throw out or sell on after double dipping.
Conclusion: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
This is now the fourth time I’ve watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; I watched it at the cinema on day of release having avoided the hype, then twice on DVD fully aware of the response that it had engendered in the fans and in critics, and again just now on Blu-ray. I have to admit I did feel deflated after that cinema viewing, and for many of the same reasons that critics cite, but the more I watch it, the more the film grows on me, and I have to admit that I enjoyed Kingdom of the Crystal Skull even more this time.
Most certainly those things that felt wrong the first time, the things that many point to as weaknesses in the film are still so. The prevalence of the CG animals is jarring, especially the Ewok Prairie Dogs that watch the rocket sled go by. The maguffin is the weakest yet, the paranormal, Jedi power conferring crystal skulls from inner space don’t even stand up to Shankara Stones, let alone the biblical resonance of the Ark, or the Grail. The Russians are weak antagonists. In 2008, who would have thought that an Eastern Ukrainian villain would fly? Cate Blanchett is no Roshan Seth, and certainly no Nazi, and once Karen Allen shows up again as Marion, all sense of suspense and peril leaves the film. She keeps grinning like an idiot through to the end of the movie, enjoying it far too much. It’s a far cry from the character that was so freaked out in the Egyptian tomb in the first movie. The ultimate annoyance for me is that the fourth film looks nothing like the first three, over-processed, digitally graded, and neutered visually till it’s a sepia artwork, not a living breathing feature film.
Having complained all that, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is still an Indiana Jones movie. Harrison Ford still has the character down pat, can still pull off the crazy stunts, and he created an Indiana Jones here that is believable as a professor verging on the pensionable, still able to kick villainous arse and wield a bullwhip. I even like Shia LaBoeuf as Mutt, much as the actor has attracted controversy in recent years for all the wrong reasons, I like the chemistry he has with Indy, and I really do love the reversal of roles that happens, the call-back to Last Crusade with Indy now filling his father’s shoes, disapproving of his son’s antics. And in this respect Crystal Skull gets it just right, offering enough in the way of reference to the first three films to sate fans, but keeping the story fresh and new.
But best of all, it does feel like an Indiana Jones movie. In a world of franchise fatigue, where film series are continued long past their sell-by dates, so that Die Hard 4.0 doesn’t even feel like a Die Hard movie, where the Terminator, Predator, Robocop and Alien films get neutered into the pit of family friendliness, Crystal Skull really does feel like another instalment in its franchise, fitting right in with the other films. Even if it is the weakest of all four movies, it is still fun though.
All of the meaningful extra features for the collection are on the fifth bonus disc, which again presents its content with the animated menu, plus countless subtitles for its featurettes.
The first thing on this disc is On Set With Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s presented in two halves albeit with a Play All option. From Jungle to Desert lasts 29:35, and From Adventure to Legend lasts 28:17, all presented in HD. The contemporary material is framed at 4:3, but you get full screen inserts of deleted scenes, outtakes and clips from the film. And during the end credits, you also get a few deleted scenes/outtakes from the other three films as well. It’s a great making of feature, an excellent fly on the wall documentary with input from the director, crew and cast with minimal voiceover.
I can finally retire my VHS collection, as the first documentary in the Making the Film section is The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), which was the bonus documentary that came on the fourth tape in that trilogy boxset. This lasts 57:48, and you might see a fair bit of repetition of material from the previous featurette. But there is also a whole lot here that is different, and it offers a more in depth look at the creative process, from both the cast and the crew.
Then we get three featurettes that you’ll find familiar from the original four disc trilogy DVD release back in 2003.
The Making of Raiders of the Lost Ark lasts 50:52, the Making of The Temple of Doom lasts 41:09, and the Making of The Last Crusade lasts 35:03.You get contemporary interviews with the cast and crew recorded for that 2003 release, interspersed with clips and behind the scenes looks at the respective movies. These latter four featurettes are presented in SD.
The Making of The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull is presented in 1080i HD, lasts 28:49 and is edited down from the hour long making of that was on the individual DVD and Blu-ray release of this film. It does the job though, and doesn’t feel too cut down.
The rest of the extra material resides in the Behind the Scenes section, and takes specific looks at various aspects of the trilogy.
The Stunts of Indiana Jones 10:56
The Sound of Indiana Jones 13:21
The Music of Indiana Jones 12:22
The Light and Magic of Indiana Jones 12:22
Raiders: The Melting Face (a recreation of the original effect) 8:12
Indiana Jones and the Creepy Crawlies (with optional pop-up trivia) 11:46
Travel with Indiana Jones Locations (with optional pop-up trivia) 9:58
Indy’s Women: The American Film Institute Tribute 9:15
Indy’s Friends and Enemies 10:10
These are all presented in SD, although the Creepy Crawlies and Locations featurettes were created contemporary with Crystal Skull.
Iconic Props 9:52
The Effects of Indy 22:34
Adventures in Post Production 12:36 are all presented in HD, and are taken from the Crystal Skull Blu-ray, although the Post Production featurette makes no mention of why the film looks as over-processed as it does.
It all seems like a lot of extra features, but other than the opening two part featurette on Raiders, none of this is new material, it’s either taken from the VHS release, the first two trilogy DVD releases, or the Kingdom of Crystal Skull individual release, and there are things left out, particularly from the Crystal Skull. You can get rid of that first trilogy DVD release (and finally the VHS trilogy), but not the second, and you’ll have to hold onto the Crystal Skull for its extras as well.
This is a great boxset of fun action adventure films, and the Indiana Jones brand has held up surprisingly well over the years. Temple of Doom slowly continues to slip in my estimation, but I probably like Crystal Skull a little too much to retain my credibility as a critic. Once I’ve finished picking holes in its plot, being niggled by its flaws, I find that I’ve still enjoyed myself immensely. And with Raiders and Last Crusade, we have two nigh on perfect adventure movies, just the sort of serial action entertainment that these films were created to homage. Unfortunately this isn’t the definitive boxset; certainly not in terms of extra features, and there is a part of me that will dip again, should a version of Raiders of the Lost Ark more faithful to the original colour timing be released.